Thursday, September 29, 2011

{Press} Whale skull found in Brewster

Cape Cod Times | Eric Williams | September 22, 2011

"BREWSTER — Someone call Indiana Jones! A giant, mysterious whale skull has been unearthed near Ellis Landing Beach.

"We're channeling our inner archaeologists, which is something we've never done before," said Brian Sharp, stranding coordinator for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
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While IFAW is better known for rescuing live marine mammals, they were called in to exhume the approximately 6-foot-long chunk of what is believed to be a right whale skull.

The skull was discovered Tuesday, when grounds crew members from the nearby Ocean Edge Resort attempted to remove what they thought was a small rock protruding from the sand, according to Sharp. Turns out, they had a whale by the skull. And a day later, three shovel-wielding IFAW staffers were hip-deep in a sand crater, trying to decipher a crumbling cranium.

The skull is believed to weigh about 400 pounds and is in fragile condition because of its exposure to water. The skull sits face-down in the sand, and parts of it appear to be missing, including the jaw bones.

Sharp said IFAW officials have consulted with staff at the New England Aquarium to see whether a whale stranding had occurred in the area over the past few decades. Nothing popped up immediately, leading Sharp to guess that the skull possibly dates from before 1974.

An extraction effort will likely be attempted this morning, with help from the town of Brewster, an IFAW spokeswoman said.

Once the skull is liberated, the "CSI" work can begin. The goal will be to "extract some DNA and be able to confirm that it is a right whale, and also potentially find out the lineage of this animal, since so much is known about right whale genetics," Sharp said.

"Maybe it will get matched up to some of the right whales that we currently have visiting us in the wintertime," he said."

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